This post is for anyone who ever told themselves that their problems weren’t a big deal because someone, somewhere, has it worse.
You know what I’m talking about, right? The kind of thinking where, despite the fact that you’re going through (or went through) real challenges, you dismiss them because you feel guilty for “complaining” about something so trivial.
I call this the “My-mother-got-cancer-and-then-my-father-lost-his-job-and-then-we-had-to-move-in-with-my-grandparents-and-then-my-after-school-tutor-molested-me, but-it’s-OK-because-at-least-I-didn’t-grow-up-in-Somalia” kind of thinking.
I’m being sassy here, but I think you get the picture.
In my experience this kind of thinking is relatively pervasive, and yet I’m always surprised when I hear someone express it. I always feel a certain softness for someone who’s writing off their own experience because they feel guilty for feeling their feelings, as if it’s somehow self-indulgent.
Self-understanding is about unraveling, exploring, and acknowledging your own story. It’s about understanding yourself in the context of your own life - a life that no one else gets to live.
I understand the temptation to feel this way, truly, but no one wins when we do this. No one in Somalia is benefitting from our sacrifice. Furthermore, thinking this way only prevents us from seeing things clearly, because we’re not able to understand ourselves and our lives for what they are in-and-of themselves.
To make a vitally important distinction, this kind of comparison thinking has a different value if it results in a feeling of genuine gratitude.
There is a very big difference between thinking, “My life isn’t perfect, but at least I’m not at risk of starving to death; I feel SO grateful for the food on my plate,” and “My problems aren’t worth acknowledging or exploring because someone, somewhere, is starving to death.”
This is a seemingly small but very important distinction. I’m all for gratitude, but emotional dismissal is an entirely different beast.
You story is your story. For all the good, the bad, and the ugly, no one else gets to live it - and you, as you stand today, are the accumulation of all of your life experiences to date.
We in the western world are extraordinarily fortunate. There is no denying that. But in order for us to truly know ourselves, we have to be able to see our lives without prejudice. We have to be able to connect the dots and create the insight without comparing our lives to anybody else’s.
Have you ever struggled with this? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.
Dr. Leslie Carr is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice (PSY 25306). She offers therapy and coaching in San Francisco and via Skype: www.lesliecarr.com.
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